WEST PALM BEACH (CBSMiami) – This year’s flu season has gone from bad to worse.
The Centers for Disease Control says the number of states with “high” levels of flu activity has nearly tripled in the last month – going from nine in December to 32 in January.
“Potentially you can get infected with one of the strains that is not covered by the vaccine,” said Epidemiologist Isabel Griffin.
For that sole reason, doctors say some are not getting the flu shot to fight this year’s rampant virus h3n2.
“We are seeing, as I said, an increase in the number of ER visits so people are going to the doctor,” said Griffin.
It’s an old wives tale we’ve heard before. If you get the shot, you will get the flu. Griffin says the answer isn’t simple. The vaccine covers four strengths of the virus, so it is possible to get one that is not covered.
“But that vaccine, what it’s doing is giving your body a head start to create antibodies against the four strains that are covered by the vaccine,” said Griffin.
Doctor Bobby Kapur of Miami’s Jackson Medical Center explains why the flu season is far from over.
“What we are seeing is more clusters of cases and that is going to lead to a prolonged flu season with higher cases in the late part of the season,” said Kapur.
With the death toll on the rise, school administrations are rising up and educating. On Thursday, Broward County Public Schools K-8 sent kids home with a letter saying,
“If your child becomes sick with flu-like illness, contact your health provider as soon after symptoms begin as possible. Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches or fatigue.”
Schools in Gulf County are taking action too.
“They are gonna go through and do as thorough a cleaning on the surfaces from the bathrooms, the libraries, the common surfaces,” said Schools Superintendent Jim Norton.
This flu season is similar to the 2014-2015 flu season where the h3n2 virus also dominated. It’s estimated about 34 million Americans had the flu that year.
“Seven hundred and ten thousand people were hospitalized and the numbers of deaths were somewhere around 56,000,” said Daniel Jernigan, Influenza Division Director for the Centers for Disease Control.
This season people over 65 years old continue to be the group most affected, which is typical when the h3n2 dominates. Children are usually the next group, but this season, according to the CDC, they’re seeing higher levels of hospitalizations in baby boomers – 50 to 64 years old.
“A number of reasons. Vaccine coverage isn’t as high in that group but also they may be little more susceptible to another influenza virus circulating which is h1n1,” said Jernigan.
“While flu activity is increasing in the Northeast, the good news is that it’s now decreasing in California and other west coast states. Flu has been widespread in every state except Hawaii for three weeks.
“We would hope we are reaching that peak but we are monitoring closely,” said Jernigan.
At the Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, flu patients have stretched their resources.
“This is probably the worst flu season I’ve seen in the last ten years,” said Dr. Jamie Snarski.
The number of new flu patients has put the medical center at full capacity.
The state’s Department of Health said last week they saw 52 new community outbreaks, bringing the seasonal total to 159 – the highest in nearly a decade. But, according to federal health officials, Florida is not even among the 24 states seeing the highest level of viral activity.
Still, parts of the state are struggling to treat the virus.
“Some pharmacies have been running low on the medication Tamiflu,” said pediatrician Dr. Sat Vardiee.
Despite the shortage, there are other options.
“The preferred route I would say would be vaccination and we have plenty of vaccine supply,” said Vardiee.
All three of the children who have died from the flu in Florida were not vaccinated, including 12-year-old Dylan Winnick.
“He was fine over the weekend, birthday parties, watching football, just like every other weekend,” said Dylan’s stepfather Mike Medwin.
Medwin said his family is stunned at just how quickly they lost Dylan.
“This is a lightning strike, I’ve described it. No indications. No warnings. Just common cold. That’s what’s so scary about it.”
The CDC is urging people six months of age or older to get the shot.